Hello again everyone. The last time I posted a review (for H8tful Eight), a lot of you checked it out. I didn't get any negative feedback, so, I thought I'd try it again. So, I present to you my latest review of a little film I'm sure we've all heard a little something about the last few days. You can find this review along with many others on my personal blog at sithlordreviews.blogspot.com. So, without further ado...
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Nothing huge happened on the motion picture front this week, did it? All kidding aside, the first mega-release of 2016 is upon us and fans of geek culture can rejoice because the two biggest icons of the comic book world are together onscreen for the first time (that I know of). The Dark Knight and Last Son of Krypton have come together for the smackdown of the ages. But, is it truly a time to rejoice?
Well, if you listen to the vast majority of critics' reviews, it definitely isn't. In fact, the film is only slightly better than getting fried on the spot with Supes' heat vision. Now, critics' reviews aren't always the be-all, end-all of how successful a movie is destined to be. But, given the reported fortune Warner Brothers poured into this venture and the fact this is the start of the DC Cinematic Universe in earnest, the less than stellar feedback had to be somewhat of a concern. Particularly since 2013's Man of Steel, while a mild success, met its fair share of criticism, as well.
Moviegoers don't always march to the beat of the same drum as critics, and, after seeing the film, I imagine there will be a great divide between the two groups. So, did I like it? Yes. I liked this amalgam of The Dark Knight Returns and ..... (sorry , no spoilers here) very much at times. Did I think it was great? Let's pump the brakes a little.
Dawn of Justice picks up on the coattails of Man of Steel as it is revealed an older, more grizzled Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is in Metropolis to witness the cataclysmic destruction caused by Superman's (Henry Cavill) fight to the death with General Zod (Michael Shannon). Coming to believe Superman poses as great a threat to Earth as anything else the world has ever seen, he, in typical Bruce Wayne fashion, begins to monitor the Man of Steel's exploits closely and...plan.
For his part, Superman is doing his Superman thing, saving flood victims, rescuing exploding shuttles, etc. He's growing more and more concerned that his actions are misconstrued as not all people on Earth believe he's a "hero", particularly those in Metropolis caught in the crossfire when he fought Zod. He also has a U.S. congressional committee led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) that wants answers from the alien himself. The mass destruction of a heavily populated city is hard to live down even if you were trying to do good.
Just as Bruce Wayne is watching Superman, Superman is beginning to follow the news clippings of a certain Bat-vigilante in neighboring Gotham in his civilian identity as Daily Planet reporter, Clark Kent. In fact, the vigilante has been upping the ante so-to-speak in recent months. He's driven and, most of all, he's as brutal as anything Clark has seen. The Bat is leaving an alarming trail of broken, branded (yes, I said branded) bodies in his wake which Clark finds disturbing.
That brings us to our primary antagonist in the film, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Lex is the insanely wealthy CEO of huge business conglomerate who more than dabbles in some unusual scientific research. He's become increasingly interested in the alien Kryptonian himself. He has an agenda that involves both heroes.
One of the better aspects of DoJ is one that caused a great deal of controversy when first announced. Let's say it together class. BEN AFFLECK IS THE NEW BATMAN! What? How dare they cast this hack? He's awful. No way is this a good idea. Well you know what? It wasn't a good idea. It was an excellent idea! By far, he's the most well-rounded, best developed character of the movie. Affleck's Batman is dark (well, duh). But, it's a different type of dark. The brutality this Batman is capable of is on a different level. I mentioned before that Affleck's Batman likes to brand his victims with a bat emblem adding a chilling amount of sadism to the character. He's a vigilante who has seen and done much in his esteemed career. He's experienced loss, and, not just from the famous death of his parents (which is kept mercifully to a brief flashback segment). We're briefly introduced to another possible source of Bruce's pain in the form of a suit of Robin armor with a cryptic, but, deadly message written on it. He's pretty much a hardened hero who doesn't give a *bleep* about the animals he hunts any longer.
One thing I thought was a definite improvement on the "Batfleck" Dark Knight compared to the last Christian Bale version of the character was the speech pattern. I always found Bale's cadence more than a little off-putting with his primal growl. How he didn't have persistent laryngitis when he was making that Nolan trilogy I'll never know. You try speaking that way consistently for more than 10 minutes and see if it doesn't do bad things to you. Affleck's voice modulation as Batman was the way to go. It gives the voice alteration while still maintaining a high level of malice. Much more believable and much less cartoonish.
Kudos to the casting of Jeremy Irons as Bruce Wayne's ever faithful, and, ever cynical butler, confidante, mechanic, nurse, etc., Alfred. I've had an issue with Alfred in past big screen adaptations because he pontificates without having anything of substance to say. Irons' darker outlook on the world fits a darker Batman. However, he still maintains the delicate balance of trying to be Bruce Wayne's conscience to some degree.
Cavill's Superman is still pretty much the angst-ridden self-doubting stranger in a strange land he was in Man of Steel. Of the two main characters, he definitely got a bit of the short shrift in my opinion. He desperately wants to help where he can, but, is disheartened by the fact that he is not completely trusted, that he's a "False God" as one non-believer spray paints on statue made in his honor. What is the right thing to do? Submit to government scrutiny or continue to play the lone wolf ? A lot of people have a lot to say about him, but, he doesn't have much to say for himself which was a problem for me in the film. Compared to the Dark Knight, he's just not that interesting outside of his amazing abilities.
So, now we come to one of the biggest moments in the film courtesy of the onscreen introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), another controversial casting decision. Although we're really not quite sure what her deal is (trust me, the movie would go off without a hitch if she weren't in it), I will say that her introduction into the melee of the final battle was something to make note of. It was an impressive intro to an iconic character. I have no doubt Gadot can act the part. I like the WW costume that's been made for the big screen. She looks good in the costume. My only hang up still is she doesn't quite look the part and it's through no fault of her own. She's as toned as she can be without looking musclebound. She just looks like she's 98 pounds soaking wet. Given the nature of the WW costume, there's just no way to hide it. Michael Keaton could be hidden in body armor to hide the fact that he didn't physically look like Batman. Gadot doesn't have the luxury. But, she is our WW. As long as she continues to act the part well, I'll get over that eventually.
That brings me to the strangest part of the film, or, let me say, strangest character for me, Lex Luthor. What do I say about Eisenberg as Luthor? I'll say the take he had on Luthor he played very well. It's just that take reminded me of Jim Carrey's Riddler on amphetamines at times. I remember Luthor as a sophisticated, manipulative businessman. Ruthless to the core. Everything calculated to the smallest detail. His brain being every bit the match of Superman's brawn. What we got was an itchy, twitchy animated chipmunk version of Lex. It was also a bit weird that Lex would let himself get caught with his hand in the cookie jar. His plan was a convoluted one trying to manipulate the two combatants into facing off (how Bruce fell for it was a little strange, too). But, the title is Batman v. Superman, so, something had to bring them together I suppose. It's Luthor's plan B that really got me scratching my head. How was he expecting to control the Kryptonian monstrosity he created (that would Doomsday, folks)? On top of that, he kind of made no secret that Doomsday was his mess which lands him in the pokey! Very un-Luthorlike. Maybe it was just a demonstration of his extreme arrogance, but, strange, nonetheless. For my money, Michael Rosenbaum's Luthor from Smallville is still the best onscreen version of this character.
Stranger still was the placement of some dream/fantasy sequences in the film that really didn't add anything for me. One was with Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) in which Clark was having another crisis and needed an intervention from dad. There's nothing wrong with the segment per se. It just felt a little shoved in. Did Costner really need a paycheck that bad? Oh, wait. Now I see why this movie cost over $200 million to make. I'm sure he didn't come cheap for the five minutes he was in the film.
Then there was the apocalyptic dream sequence Bruce had where the world seems to be controlled by a dictatorial Superman. I'm not sure where director, Zack Snyder, was going with this. Was this just a manifestation of Bruce's paranoid psyche or was this foreshadowing for something upcoming? I wouldn't put it past Snyder because he's proven there's method to his madness by building on the chaos of Man of Steel into this film. I reserve the right to revisit this and change my opinion at a later date. But, for now, it's another segment that wasn't bad, just puzzling why it was there.
Now, before I start to sound like "Negative Nelly", let me say, I think there's a lot to like about DoJ. As I mentioned before, Snyder and Warner Brothers had a plan starting with Man of Steel. Events that movie got ripped apart for like the callous destruction of Metropolis and Superman breaking Zod's neck are depicted that way for a reason. DoJ is the fallout, the consequence of those actions.
Snyder does a nice job building anticipation to the inevitable confrontation. Visually, both protagonists have never looked better. Batman projects an aura of danger. It oozes off him even as Bruce Wayne. Superman is the unbeatable powerhouse, majestic and indestructible (except when that pesky Kryptonite is around). There's also a terrific scene that gives you great insight on how the sun powers the Last Son of Krypton after he gets hit with a nuclear warhead. Excellent visuals showing how he goes from near death to vibrant and powerful once again. Lastly, love or hate the movie, how did you not get a few goosebumps when you saw the DC Trinity standing side by side onscreen for the first time?
The brief introduction we were given to the rest of the Justice League (Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman) made me little giddy, I'll be honest. I really think Aquaman is going to turn many heads with Jason Mamoa in the lead role. He looks impressive at least. At the very least, the character will hopefully stop being the butt of so many jokes when he's on the big screen.
Much has been made of how different in tone the DC Cinematic Universe movies are going to be compared the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In reading some reviews of DoJ, a point has been driven home on how dour and dark it is. I've heard the same thing mentioned on sports talk radio! Well guess what? The DCCU doesn't have to be the same as the MCU. And, in a way, I'm glad it isn't. The path of least resistance would be Warner Brothers shaping their structure in much the same way as Marvel Studios did. And why not? The blueprint is there. It's an insanely successful one. I've had discussions in the past with friends and we've all wondered what Snyder and company were doing not following the "Marvel Way." DC and Warner are giving us a different flavor and there's nothing wrong with that. Marvel has already cornered the market on their version of universe building. Are their movies lighter in tone? Yes, but, it works for them. Although I will take issue with people who say their movies are so lighthearted, they're cartoonish. We've known Thanos is coming to kill everyone since the Avengers and every movie since then has had that shadow cast over it. But, I digress. The DCCU doesn't need to be a carbon copy. They're doing their own thing to differentiate themselves, and, to varying degrees, I think it's working for them. At least the powers that be have a clear plan. Let's give them the opportunity to execute it. As movie fans, particularly comic book fans, it's all good that we have two viable options. When in your lives did you EVER think geek culture would explode like this and become mainstream? There should be no Marvel vs. DC. Embrace it all is what I'll leave you with.
To make a long story short (too late, I know), Dawn of Justice is an important entry into movie lore. My hope, even as primarily a Marvel guy, is for this to do well and for the DCCU to take off and be every bit as viable as the MCU. Do I think they're there yet? No. I'm not standing up and cheering. But, I am intrigued. I want to see more. I want to go on this journey. At the very least, I think the DCCU has earned that much.
***1/2 stars out of 5
a very solid...B
Again, if you like what you read and are interested my other reviews, please visit my blog at http://sithlordreviews.blogspot.com/